The Milano Seamen, 2017 Italian champions, have agreed to terms with veteran Michael Wood to take over as head coach following the departure of Canadian Tony Addona.
Wood, a former Ohio State Buckeye defensive back, who played in four bowl games including the Rose Bowl, has built up an impressive coaching resume over the past 25 years or so following the end of his playing career which included two seasons with Germany’s Kempten Comets.
He has had coaching stints with the Paris Mousquetaires, the Italian national team, Ithaca College in New York, Columbia University, Pomona-Pitzer College and Chapman University.. His European coaching background includes the Bolzano Giants, Danube Dragons, Flash La Courneuve (2014) and the Allgau Comets (2015) . He served as the defensive coordinator of the Giants again in 2017. Following the Italian season, he then took on the defensive coordinator’s role with the Europe Warriors team that played against one of the Mexico’s top college teams, the UNAM Pumas CU in August.
In a fascinating interview, American Football International asked Michael about his background, philosphy and how he came to sign with the defending Italian champions.
American Football International: Why did you decide to sign with Milano?
Michael Wood: I have been a defensive coordinator for most of my career and have always wanted to be a head coach, so when the opportunity arose with the Seamen, it was a pretty easy decision. I have known the organization and the success that they have had, I knew the management of the club ran a first-class operation, the team is coming off winning the Italian Championship, they have very high-quality players, and they have excellent facilities. Lastly the city of Milan is one of the great cultural cities of the world and getting a chance to experience all these things and join one of the top clubs in Europe was an obvious choice.
AFI: You have had a highly successful college and European coaching career. Can you take us through it?
Wood: I started my football career as a walk-on defensive back at The Ohio State University. I was very fortunate to earn a full scholarship prior to my sophomore year. I was primarily a special team player, starting every game my last two seasons on kick-off and kick-off return. I went to four bowl games during my time as a Buckeye, the Holiday, Fiesta, Rose and Citrus Bowls. We had some outstanding players and coaches that taught me what it takes to become successful. Every day was competitive, tough, physical football, at the highest level. My experience at OSU has molded my philosophy and work ethic that I have tried to pass on to the players that I coach.
In 1988 I went to a try-out for the World Football League after I was finished with my collegiate career, through that combine I met an agent and he was able to get me a contract with the Kempten Comets of the German Football League. I was the first paid import player that the Comets brought over. I played free safety and was the defensive coordinator with the club. I spent 2 seasons in Kempten and that was my first experience overseas.
I returned to the States and entered the real world, I got a job in sales, ran a restaurant for a while until got a part-time coaching position at Ithaca College, I spent a year with the Bombers and at the AFCA Coaches Convention in January 1997 I landed a position coaching the Paris Mousquetaires. I was the DC with them and we advanced to the French Final and Euro-bowl semi-final.
After that season in Paris I got a graduate assistant coaching position at Columbia University. I spent three falls in NYC, earning my master’s degree in exercise science. I spent two of the Springs back overseas with the Bolzano Giants. In 1999 we went to the Italian Final losing to Bergamo, but after that game I was invited to be a part of the Italian National Team. We played in the 1st World Cup of American Football in Palermo, Sicily, that experience was outstanding and introduced me to the Italian National football community.
I return to Ithaca College as a full time secondary coach and special teams coordinator. I spent six years there while calso coaching the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams in the off season. We were very successful going to the Division III playoffs in four of those seasons and ECAC playoffs the other two years.
In 2007 I was the defensive coordinator at Pomona College for one season, and moved from there to coach linebackers and D-Line at Chapman University both schools are in Southern California. I also continued coaching lacrosse and took my Chapman squad to the MCLA National Championship game two years in a row and semi-final the third year. I compiled a 55-8 head coaching record and ranked #2, #2 and #3 nationally those three seasons.
I had stayed in touch with Coach Tisma of the Bolzano Giants. I have had a great relationship with him and he has brought me back to Bolzano seven different times. 2009 was one of the years that I returned to Bolzano and we won the Italian Super Bowl, I also returned in 2011. In 2013 I was in Vienna, Austria with the Danube Dragons, reaching the AFL semifinal. In 2014 I returned to Paris, this time with the La Courneuve Flash. We reach the semi-final again. 2015 brought me back to the Allgau Comets, we again reached the GFL semi-final, and EFL final. 2016 we made the playoffs, getting knocked out again by reigning champion Braunschweig Lions. Last year I returned to Bolzano where we lost the semi-final to the Milano Rhinos.
This past August I got another great opportunity to be the DC of the Europe Warriors, we competed in Mexico City against UNAM Pumas. Coach Jesus Sanchez and Coach Bart Iaccarino assembled a roster of European and American import players from 14 different countries. We played an entire season in just seven days. From guys arriving on Saturday, introductions, meetings, 2 a days, media day, intra-squad scrimmage, walk through, to playing in Olympic Stadium in front of 27,000 crazy fans. The game end 35-32 in favor of the hosts but on Monday when the guys left it was like an entire season had be played out in that one week.
I have been in Europe 14 times but I have only been with five different teams. I have been very fortunate that I have had the opportunity to return to the same clubs over and over again. I have a couple of places that I truly can call a second home and I am very grateful to those people and organizations.
AFI: How have you seen the game develop in Europe over the past few years?
Wood: When I first arrived in West Germany, in 1988, the game was relatively new to Europe, a lot of the old organizations were formed in the early to mid-80’s. I feel that I have seen a number of evolutions of the game since then. When I first started playing it was a tough physical run the ball type of game, very similar to the way it was in the states. Big O-Line, and D-Linemen, everyone was in two back sets, TE formations, the game was played between the tackles, toss sweep or option was the way that people tried to get the ball on the perimeter. The passing game was basic route combinations and conservative play calling.
As the game evolved and grew so did the coaching and the offensive schemes. Spread formations more athletic players and better skill guys. Offenses try to use formations, motions and multiple personnel groups to get a numbers advantage either in the run game or pass game. This has turned the game into a little bit of a matchup game. Can we get our best WR on a lesser defender, by using motion, by playing him at different positions, in the slot, outside at X, maybe lining him up in the backfield. Good Offensive Coordinators have forced defenses to defend the entire field. From sideline to sideline, and vertically by pushing the ball deeper down field.
The speed of the game has changed drastically as well, the players are much better athletes, from weight training, agility workouts, better conditioning, better nutrition. Guys are preparing themselves much better and are becoming much more specialized at their individual positions. Film has enhanced the game by leaps and bounds. If your organization doesn’t have some type of video editing system you are behind the times. Live streaming of games has not only made the game more popular it has made the game better. The more you watch film the better you can evaluate your technique and scheme. I believe the more exposure that you get to quality football the better player you will become and the more confident a player you will be. The more confidence that you have in knowing your assignment the faster you can play.
AFI: You are taking over a team that has won three of the last four Italian championships. How does that feel?
Wood: The Seamen have done a great job the past few seasons, Paolo and Marco Mutti and the whole management team, coaching staff and players have made a big commitment to being successful, both on and off the field. As an import coach or player that is the first thing that you want to see in your organization. The club has already established a very high standard and it is my job to build upon that. They have done so many things well by evidence of the recent success I feel very fortunate. It is like being given the keys to a Ferrari. You know that it is fast now it is my job to keep it straight and not let up on the gas. I will bring my personality and work ethic to the club. I am not looking to make drastic changes, maybe I can fine tune a couple of things. But I look at my responsibility to be; push the players, and coaches to exceed their own expectations, challenge them to stay atop of that hill. Everyone that we play will be putting a big emphasis on our game. Beating the Champs will be a bench mark game for every club. It is easy to get complaisant after winning a title. The great teams, the special teams are the teams that get to the top and stay there. I have to find the keys that will motivate the guys to pursue the next challenge with even more passion. The good thing for them is that I didn’t win it all last year, and I am hungry for a title.
AFI: What is your best memory of coaching in college and then in Europe?
Wood: The best memory that I have from football, that one is easy, the people. I have made lifelong friends though football. Each time that you join a club it is like being adopted into a great big family. The game has a way of crossing all kinds of barriers. The brotherhood that develops throughout a team goes beyond the field, it carries over to your everyday life. Not a day goes by that I don’t talk to, get a message from or see in person an ex-teammate or player that I coached. Those relationships are who I am. I am truthful, loyal, and honest and those characteristics were learned, developed and sometimes exposed because of my time with this great game.
AFI: Do you have a couple of favorite meals?
Well at 250 lbs, (112 kilos) I have a few. But a good home cooked meal is hard to pass up.
AFI: What do you bring to the Seamen?
Wood: I love coaching football, so my passion for the game, attention to detail, and desire will be the things that the guys will probably notice. I try and make it fun, I love coming to practice and competing. Pushing the guys to compete. If both sides of the ball are giving great effort, communicating, and out there working hard you are bound to be getting better. I am sure that the club has a certain routine that they are used to. For me fast paced drill work, hustling is conditioning, if guys are flying around in practice, pushing themselves when the coaches aren’t looking the practices will fly by. I want to bring a culture to our work ethic. Collectively we are either taking a step forward or a step backward. Our life as a team is in front of us. What happened in the past will always be there, what happens now and in the future, is what we have control of and aspire too. Attitude is the number one thing that determines what happens, great positive attitudes are found in successful people, take responsibility for your actions, be accountable, and give the team, your teammates and your family everything you can, and that is all anyone can ask for.
One of my favorite quotes is by Aristotle “Excellence is not an act but a Habit”
AFI: What are your expectations for 2018?
Wood: Every team and coach will give you a standard answer, Win the Championship!!!!
Well I want the same thing but I want the Milano Seamen to go out and dominate each and every snap! I need to set some very lofty goals for this team so that this team is remember as one of the best teams in the club’s history. The bar has been set very high but we need to try and exceed those standards. When the fans come to a game this year I want them to see the Highest quality of football that we can bring to them. I want it to be exciting, high octane, and dominating. Great teams play with an edge. They play with great confidence, heart and passion. I want every team we play to know that even if they play their very best that they are in for a tough fight for 48 minutes. From the first whistle to the last I want the Seamen to be flying around, having fun, and giving it everything they got.
“Fino in Fondo”